A round, red, sad, brutal, 40-year-old face charged by me in a blur. I turned, he stumbled and somebody in an orange carphone warehouse t-shirt caught up and grabbed him from behind. The thief struggled, kicked out and wrenched his arms free but out of nowhere, three more men appeared. While they were thrashing about, a Brown Thomas gift bag fell from the thief’s grip and tumbled strangely, prepostrously to his side.
He was pinned to the ground and fell silent. An enormous crowd had gathered about. Camera phones came out. A little boy held his father’s head and said again and again “Is da real, da?” “It is yeah”, the father replied. “That man was stealing and he’s been caugh’ and he doesn’t like everyone watching him now ’cause he looks like a muppet… ‘Cause he is one”. “Is it real though, da?”. “It sure is, son. The Police are gonna get him and he’s gonna go to jail”.
It was an uncomfortable scene. I wasn’t proud of myself for not being able to leave. I heard a woman remark that the man’s hands were turning white and a lady from the other side of the crowd approached the group and asked them to loosen their grip on his wrist. Suddenly the man let out a roar. “ASSAULT. I’m being ASSAULTED. HELP. HELP. HELP”
“He’s not being assaulted”, the Brown Thomas doorman muttered and asked me politely to stop blocking the entrance to the shop. The man let out another roar, and raised his head. A strong black hand pushed it down again.
The thief managed somehow to hurt the smallest of his captors, who hopped about in pain and blurted out “you scumbag”.
“I can’t breathe!” the man shouted, “I can’t fucking BREATHE. Would you let me breathe!”
At this point, something rather strange happened next to me.
A boy of about fourteen, a Casanova with a country accent, led a group of his friends through the throngs towards three similarly-aged girls who were standing beside me and grinning rather stupidly at the whole scene. “Hey you girls”, he drawled in his not-yet-broken voice. “These are some of my frinds here. Would you ladies be able to show us where Stephen’s Green is?”
The girls stared at him and pointed behind them. “Would you be able to show us like?” the boy continued.
They shrugged. “Stephen’s Green is right up there”, one said, shyly.
“Come on, would you not just show us like?” He smiled.
“Ah go on..”
I was nearly going to offer. But there was a new arrival on the scene.
A younger, dosed-up man I recognised from hanging about town staggered up to where the men were holding down the thief. He looked confused.
“Hey! Leave him be”, he said beginning to tug at him for possession. “He’s not done nothing!” he slurred. “He was shoplifting”, one of the carphone warehouse sales assistants told him, still pressing down on his chest. The thief let out another roar. “I paid the bleeding money didn’t I?”.
Twenty minutes later the Police arrived and made a no-frills arrest. I watched the thief’s silouete disappear as the Garda car drove away. I wondered about what was in that Brown Thomas bag and about the day that abject, addicted, ageing man was born a baby in his mother’s arms.